Rail Trail work underway

Work continues on widening a bicycle/pedestrian path alongside the rail line on a trestle that connects East Cliff Drive to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk area. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

The “great rail trail” debate is effectively over — and the Rail Trail is being built now, according the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County (LTSCC).

A recent vote by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) ended the raging debate over the rail trail, with a caveat, officials said. The caveat: the commission left open whether to put rail or buses on the corridor.

Regardless of that caveat, the building of the Rail Trail, a 32-mile trail between Watsonville and Davenport north of Santa Cruz, can now proceed with the certainty that the commission won’t pull the plug part way through.

The Santa Cruz County Rail and Trail will provide a safe, level, continuous, off-street route to numerous locations between Watsonville and Davenport, the LTSCC said.

In January the RTC closed the door on the trail-only option, which had been up for debate for years. The RTC, which owns the rail corridor, unanimously voted to rule out the trail-only approach and use the rail portion of the corridor for public transit (bus or rail), the LTSCC said.

Thus, the Rail Trail bike/pedestrian path will be built as planned, according to the Rail Trail Master Plan adopted in 2013.

“It is certainly possible that trail-only advocates will file lawsuits or perhaps even try to have voters reject the plan through a ballot measure,” the LTSCC said. “They’ve been threatening it for some time. Greenway has even floated a vague idea that buses and bicycles could somehow share a single lane road. Regardless of what trail-only advocates do, the RTC has rejected their idea unanimously.”

The LTSCC has committed $6 million to match federal grants for the Rail Trail.

Construction is ongoing on the San Lorenzo River Bridge path that connects East Cliff Drive to pedestrian and bike paths and an entrance to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The plan includes widening the existing bridge path.

In March, the RTC approved the final Environmental Impact Report for the North Coast segment of the Rail Trail, clearing the way for construction in 2021. Work on the segment between the San Lorenzo Bridge to Twin Lakes (7th Avenue) in Live Oak will begin this summer.

“These developments remind us how excited we were years ago when the Land Trust decided to help build this 32-mile wonder trail that is within a mile of 92 parks, 45 schools and half the county’s population,” the LTSCC said.

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